Rahal And Sato Return To St. Pete

Graham Rahal

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Pre-Race Notes
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida
Round 1 of 17 in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES

DATE: Friday – Sunday, March 13-15, 2020

PRACTICE BROADCASTS: Live on INDYCAR Pass, the direct-to-consumer streaming product from NBC Sports Gold, on Friday from 10:45-11:30 a.m. and 3-3:45 p.m., on Saturday from 10:45-11:30 a.m., and on Sunday from 10:25-10:55 a.m. All times Eastern. Also live on the INDYCAR Radio Network (IRN) and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis).

QUALIFYING BROADCAST: Live on INDYCAR Pass, the IRN and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis) from 2:40-3:55 p.m. ET Saturday. Tape delayed on NBCSN from 10-11:30 p.m. ET.

RACE BROADCAST: Live Sunday, March 15 from 2:30-6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN, INDYCAR Pass and the IRN. Coverage will also air on Sirius 216 and XM 205.

TRACK LAYOUT: 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course
RACE LENGTH: 100 laps / 180 miles (10 less laps than 2019)
2019 WINNER: Josef Newgarden
2019 POLESITTER: Will Power (1:00.4594; 107.179 mph)

RLL’S TOP START / FINISH AT ST. PETE: 5th by Sato in 2018 / 2nd by Rahal in 2018; will be team’s 13th event here

RAHAL’S BEST START / FINISH IN ST. PETE: 1st in 2009 / 1st in 2008 – both with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing; will be his 13th race here

RAHAL’S HIGHEST SERIES START/FINISH: 3 poles – Pole at St. Pete (street) 2009, Kansas (oval) 2009, Detroit Race 1 (street) 2017 / 6 wins – 1st in St. Pete in 2008, Fontana & Mid-Ohio 2015, Texas 2016, Detroit Race 1 & Race 2 2017

SATO’S BEST START / FINISH IN ST. PETE: 1st in 2014 with A.J. Foyt Racing / 5th in 2011 with KV Racing; will be his 11th race here

SATO’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH: 9 Poles – Iowa (oval) 2011, Edmonton (street) 2011, Houston Race 1 (street) 2013, St. Pete (street) 2014, Detroit Dual 2 (street) 2014, Detroit Dual 2 2017, Pocono (oval) 2017, Barber (road) 2019, Texas (oval) 2019 / 5 Wins – Long Beach (2013), Indianapolis 500 (2017), Portland (road) 2018, Barber 2019, St. Louis (oval) 2019

NEWS & NOTES:

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING AT ST. PETE
The 2020 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 13th INDYCAR SERIES race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) Racing in St. Petersburg. The team has entered the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Graham Rahal and the No. 30 Panasonic / Mi-Jack Honda for Takuma Sato. The team prepared Indy cars for Danica Patrick (2005, 2006), Buddy Rice (2005, 2006), Vitor Meira (2005), Jeff Simmons (2007), Scott Sharp (2007), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008), Takuma Sato (2012, 2018-19), Graham Rahal (2013-2019), James Jakes (2013) and Spencer Pigot (2016) prior to this year. The team led 11 laps with Takuma Sato in 2012 and four laps with Hunter-Reay in 2008 (G. Rahal won w/NHLR) and has earned three top-10 finishes with the best being fifth by Meira in 2005. The highest starting position by the team is fifth place by Sato and highest finish is second by Graham Rahal – both in 2018.

GRAHAM’S HISTORY-MAKING APPEARANCES IN ST. PETE
In 2020, Graham will make his 13th Indy car start at this track. His best start here is pole in 2009 and best finish is a win in 2008 in his IndyCar Series debut – both history-making moments at the time as he became the youngest pole winner in series history (2009) and youngest race winner in series history (2008), respectively. Both records were eclipsed last year by Colton Herta but he held them for 10 and 11 years, respectively. Overall he has earned one top-five and six top-10 starts here and has two top-five and four top-10 finishes. Year-by-year details are available upon request. Graham is hoping to add his name to the list of repeat winners at St. Pete and believes his personal off-season preparation and that of the team has gone well.

“I have put a lot of effort into the physical fitness side of things,” said Rahal. “Not that I don’t every year but this year I certainly got out of Christmas a whole lot lighter than I did last year. I’m trying to focus on being the best version of me that I can be. I’m taking care of my body. We’ve seen this in other athletes like Tom Brady, LeBron and more. These guys talk about the aches and pains in their bodies as they get older. I need to put a lot more emphasis this year on taking care of my body and making sure I am ready each-and-every weekend. From a team perspective, everybody has put in a ton of effort. From the engineering side we have really thought outside the box. I’m excited. We put a lot of emphasis on development. The mechanics always do a great job but they’ve also been pushing very hard on their pit stop times. Not that it was weak before but everyone is really determined. After last year, everyone is fired up. We had a lot of bad luck and a lot of things that didn’t go our way last year and we’re certainly hoping with all of the preparation for this year that they do.”

2019 ST. PETE RACE REWIND FOR GRAHAM
In 2019, Graham set the third fastest lap (1:00.5933) in Group 2 of Round 1 and advanced to Round 2. He didn’t get a good out lap therefore the rear tires didn’t come in to their max and he set the 11th fastest lap time and did not progress to Round 3. He started 10th and passed Hinchcliffe for ninth at the start of the 110-lap race. He made his first pit stop on Lap 12 and moved up to seventh place while multiple pit strategies were playing out and some competitors encountered problems. On Lap 32 the team called him in during a caution when a tire pressure sensor alerted them of a right rear tire puncture, likely caused by running over debris from previous accidents. This necessitated a strong fuel conservation to finish the race in two more stops. He made his third stop on Lap 71 from eighth place and continued to conserve fuel after he returned to the track. Due to being unable to maintain a strong pace, the team elected to come in for a splash of fuel on Lap 101/110 while running ninth. He dropped to 12th place and took the checkered flag in that position.

GRAHAM’S EXPECTATIONS FOR THE SEASON
“My expectations are high for the season like they are every year. We know we can win. I know I can win as a driver and we know we can win as a team. St. Pete is a great place to start it off. We have had good success there. We had a win in 2008 and another podium and have also had a lot of bad luck. Last year we had some bad luck but we’re excited to get out there and start the season off on the right foot and get some good points. The expectations are high but why should we expect less from ourselves. Particularly in this day and age, you’ve got to push yourself as hard as possible, you’ve got to expect the most out of yourself and be as committed and determined as possible. It lit a fire under me, we went through a dry spell there for a while which was tough for me, tough for the fans. I heard plenty about it. But then we won five times in three years which was pretty solid given the level of competition here. We’ve gone on a couple of years of a dry spell so we need to get back in Winners Circle, there’s no doubt about that.”

Takuma Sato

TAKUMA AT ST. PETE
The 2020 race will be Takuma’s 11th here. In 10 races, his best start is pole in 2014 with AJ Foyt Racing (AFR) and best finish is fifth place in 2011 with KV Racing. Overall, he has earned five top-five and six top-10 starts here and has two top-five and five top-10 finishes. Year-by-year details are available upon request. After an abbreviated test at Circuit of the Americas in February due to inclement weather and one more day of testing at Sebring International Raceway earlier this month, Takuma is looking forward to gauging the progress in the season-opener in St. Petersburg.

“As our team, and every team has done, we have done R&D (research and development) on every aspect of the car to go faster. The team worked non-stop since last season. They did a great job over the course of the winter and we will see how well we have moved forward. As a race car driver and an athlete, you have to get stronger for the strength as well as to have a good performance. Hopefully we can jump in the car and both (driver and car) match the speed and progress. St. Petersburg for me is just always fun. It’s a perfect venue for the season opener. The fans have been waiting for it and so have we. I personally have good memories and great history in St. Petersburg. It’s a great track; very challenging and unique because of using the airport runway and the downtown city streets. I can’t wait to go back there.”

2019 RACE REWIND FOR TAKUMA

Last year, Sato had his fastest lap taken away after he drove into a runoff area during qualifying which brought out a local yellow flag. In the race, he had moved up from his 20th place start and had been running eighth before his third stop on Lap 75/110 but began having a shifting problem on his in-lap and was unable to continue once he was in his pit. It was discovered that debris had clogged the gearbox electronic cooling duct which led to overheating and a malfunction of the gear control unit.

TAKUMA AIMS TO CARRY MOMENTUM FROM THE PAST TWO YEARS INTO 2020, HIS FOURTH OVERALL WITH THE TEAM

The 2020 season will mark the third consecutive season for Takuma at the team and fourth overall. Takuma has steadily built momentum since his 2018 return to RLL and has earned three of his five wins with the team. Last season he won his first INDYCAR race from pole on the road course at Barber Motorsports Park and also won in dramatic fashion at the World Wide Technology Raceway oval near St. Louis.

“A new season is always interesting but 2020 is even more simply because the cars will have a new Aeroscreen. The dimension will be different but it is also exciting because it will be my third (consecutive) year at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the environment is just getting better and better all the time. If you look back at 2018 and 2019, we achieved more and more so we are expecting to be even more competitive and even more consistent to be at the highest level of the competition. (On his success in 2018 and 2019:) I think it’s the continuous work together and how you developed yourself as well as the team standpoint. With engineering and the boys, the pit stops, everything. We have been finding small improvements but it all just came together and we had some great moments when we got on pole and won two races. Those are good achievements and I’m really happy with that.”

GRAHAM AND TAKUMA ON THE AEROSCREEN

Developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies and tested multiple times since its first on-track assessment in October 2019, the Aeroscreen will appear on all cars competing in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the city streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on Sunday. The Aeroscreen is INDYCAR’s latest safety innovation to reduce the risk of driver injury from flying debris or other objects striking the cockpit area. Both drivers are appreciative of the efforts of INDYCAR in regard to advances in driver safety.

“I think the Aeroscreen is really cool; I like it a lot,” said Rahal. “I think it looks like a fighter jet on wheels. I think it’s a really unique look and will provide a lot of safety to the drivers. At the end of the day that’s what we’re trying to do; make this sport a little bit safer. Anything that can stop a piece of debris or anything from hitting our heads is important and I think this is going to do that. I think it’s going to grow on fans. Yeah, it’s different. Have we seen an Indy car look like this before? No, we haven’t but it’s time that we evolve and I think it looks really cool.”

“It’s definitely a great thing for the drivers,” added Sato. “Number one because the INDYCAR SERIES is putting the safety of the drivers first and second, it is showing the world the technology of INDYCAR, a series who has built safety devices in the past. Now there is a new development coming. I believe it will be successful and will be the standard for the open cockpit formula for the next generation.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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